LEWISTON, Idaho – It had been 16 years since the Indiana Tech baseball team had last played in the NAIA World Series. When the Warriors made their return to the national tournament Friday morning, they immediately flubbed their first two defensive chances.
But this opening-round game was all about resiliency, and the Warriors managed to overcome those initial miscues and a few more that followed. Then in the 10th inning, first baseman Jake DeFries slapped a walk-off RBI single to boost Indiana Tech to a 3-2 triumph over Bellevue of Nebraska at Harris Field.
The eighth-seeded Warriors (42-14) continue tournament play today when they face top-seeded Tennessee Wesleyan (52-9) at 6 p.m. Fort Wayne time. No. 9 Bellevue (46-15) will play a loser-out game at 11:30 a.m.
DeFries’ winning blow came with rain picking up in extra innings. He bounced a full-count single through the right side of the infield, which allowed courtesy runner Brandon Burch to race home from second for the winning run. Burch slid head-first into the plate, the Bruins’ throw home went wide and the players in Tech’s dugout dashed onto the field and mobbed DeFries at first.
“Coach has a lot of trust in us, especially middle of the lineup,” said DeFries, a freshman from Crown Point. “He trusts us to come through big in the clutch. That’s just one of those moments where he had trust in me.”
It was a happy ending for Tech in game that started ignominiously. Two infield errors by the Warriors in the first put the first two Bellevue batters on base, and the Bruins also hit a leadoff double in the second.
But Tech pitcher Charles Dunavan managed to end both threats unscathed, then cruised through the next three innings.
“We didn’t play particularly well defensively (or) offensively — we made some big pitches, though,” Warriors coach Kip McWilliams said. “Our pitching did a nice job, especially holding one of the better hitting teams in the country to two runs in 10 innings. That’s great.
“The guys perservered, they didn’t give in when things didn’t go their way,” the 12th-year coach added. “Technically we made four errors, but I’m not sure if they scored any runs on those errors.”
The Bruins, who didn’t cash in on any of Tech’s errors, also had resilient moments. They managed to force extra innings when Kory Longaker bashed a two-out RBI double to right-center in the ninth that made it 2-2.
But Bellevue, which had won 39 of 40 games entering the Series, also squandered late chances. Longaker’s double came immediately after a double play that took some of the steam out of the Bruins’ rally, and they stranded men on second and third in the 10th.
“Offensively, our execution was pretty poor, and we’ve been playing pretty well that way,” Bruins coach Duane Monlux said. “We just didn’t today. And our hitting with two outs wasn’t what it’s been.”
Tech catcher Glen McClain went 3-for-5 and drove in a run in the fifth that made it 2-0. Reese Olsen and DeFries notched two hits apiece.
Dunavan and Joe Pratt pitched the first 8 2/3 innings for the Warriors and limited Bellevue to seven hits, three walks and two runs while striking out five. Landon Bloir entered in the ninth and worked the 10th, and was credited with the win.
McWilliams lauded his club with “hanging together.”
“You might have a guy who struggles at the plate, who might strike out, but he’s got his teammates, he’s got his brothers, to help pick him up.”
vs. Tennessee Wesleyan
What: NAIA World Series
Where: Harris Field, Lewiston, Idaho
When: 6 p.m. today